Of course I watched Happy Valley first. I’m not completely insane. But actually, the contrast was salutary. If Sally Wainwright’s drama is fiction that feels, emotionally at least, entirely truthful, Tom Bradby’s interview with Prince Harry on ITV was fact that seemed at best quixotic, and at worst fanciful to the point of preposterousness. Until now, I’ve tended to think of Harry’s word soup as a light broth: chicken noodle, perhaps. In Bradby’s hands, however, it was more of a thick minestrone. Over 90 minutes all manner of unidentifiable bits and pieces floated by, each one less appetising than the last. Bradby could – and should – have picked out the odd crouton of conspiracy before it grew too soggy. But given that his “friend” Prince William has now (I read) frozen him out, perhaps he was reluctant to lose his sole remaining royal contact. Mostly these mushy chunks bobbed up and down uncertainly throughout.
Did their conversation take place at Harry’s Montecito palace? Or had ITV booked a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel? I wasn’t sure. A more bland spot – think sale time at Oka – it’s hard to imagine. The first section, in which Harry described the terrible hours and days after his mother’s death, was the most moving, and the most troubling not only for any journalist, but for anyone who has ever devoured a royal story (come on, I know you have). Even Harry – or, I should say, even Harry’s ghost writer – hasn’t the words for the horror of it (the interview was punctuated with readings from his much-leaked memoir, Spare). One must fall back on the poets to convey the way man hands on misery to man – Charles’s inability to hug his small son as he breaks the news of the crash seemingly a legacy of his own chilly childhood – and Harry is, we gather, not much of a one for those. After this opening, original sin gave way to the narcissism of the age: a weird combination of petulance and gruesome therapy-speak.
What is it that Harry wants? I’m damned if I know. He says he’s “happy” now, but I’ve rarely seen a bloke look more dead behind the eyes. He says he and Meghan have “proved” they only want to “serve”, but what does this service actually involve? (Bradby didn’t ask.) Everything is the fault of the newspapers, except when it’s Charles’s, or Camilla’s, or William’s, or some nameless aide’s. At moments, as the royal writer Robert Hardman has already noted, Harry is not merely correcting history but rewriting it – a narrative that may easily be checked. He is forgetful and highly partial. You’re an unemployed prince, man, not a “spokesman for the world”! What kind of person talks of “reconciliation” even as they slag someone off? Why doesn’t he follow the example of his beloved Nelson Mandela, or the Obamas, and “go high”? He could be better than his betrayers.
Bradby asked Harry why he had invaded his own privacy. But as the minestrone bubbled away in response, Bradby never reached for the electric blender as an Emily Maitlis would surely have done. We had to scrutinise Bradby’s expression – never an easy task; he’s smoother than massage oil – to grasp that he was as amazed as us when Harry denied he and Meghan had ever alleged the royal family was racist. I’m afraid that this encounter revealed more about British social class, and about men, than about the tabloids, or even the royal family. Here were two ex-public school boys, one of whom suddenly has an awful lot to say about unconscious bias. The rest of us, less privileged and less certain, cannot get a word in edgeways. We can only watch as, on social media, yet more semi-famous ex-public schoolboys slap them on their respective backs. To be honest, I’m more weary of this than of anything in the tabloids: the prerogative of posh men, still going strong after all these years.
[See also: The White Lotus and the horror of the super-rich]
This article appears in the 11 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Burning down the House of Windsor